Polarized vs. Photochromic Sunglasses for Cycling: Do You Really Need Them?

View of a naked eye vs. polarized lens (for illustration purposes only)

The main difference between polarized and photochromic lenses for cycling is that polarized lenses are tinted permanently and reduce the sun’s glare. They are ideal for sunny days or high mountains. Photochromic lenses change their tint based on light conditions. They are suitable for unpredictable weather.

Below, you learn whether one is better than the other for cycling, if you need polarized or photochromic sunglasses and if they are even suitable for cycling.

Are you curious about the answers?

Let’s dive in.

Polarized vs. Photochromic: What’s the Difference?

Before we dive deeper, let’s explain the differences between polarized and photochromic lenses because these two terms are often mixed up.

  • Polarized lenses are primarily used to reduce the sun’s glare. They always come in the form of sunglasses, never eyeglasses, and don’t transition back and forth. (Source)
  • Photochromic lenses are eyeglass lenses that are clear (or nearly clear) indoors and darken when exposed to sunlight. (Source)
Photochromic lenses approximate transition times visualized
Photochromic lenses approximate transition times | Times source:

Photochromic lenses change their color based on sunlight. Polarized lenses are tinted dark permanently.


Pros & Cons Explained

The following table shows the pros and cons of polarized and photochromic cycling sunglasses.

LensesProsCons
Polarized• Beneficial near the ocean, high mountains, or other sunny areas because they improve vision
• Reduce glares and reflections
• Increase contrast and minimal color distortion
• Can make reading cycling computers (and other displays) more difficult
• Can make spotting potholes and other objects more difficult
• Not suitable for low-light conditions
Photochromic• Change the tint depending on the light conditions
• Reduce glares and eyestrain
• Convenient because you don't have to switch the lens based on the weather
• Don't provide immediate sunlight protection because of the slower tint transition
• Take longer to change the tint in winter
The pros & cons of polarized and photochromic cycling sunglasses
Sources: healthline.com, allaboutvision.com, aao.org

Polarized sunglasses are suitable for sunny areas because they reduce eye strain and glares. I highly recommend them for riders who often ride in high mountains or near the ocean.

They will protect your eyes against the UV rays that can be heightened by snow or water (learn more about eye protection when cycling in this article).

On the other hand, they are unsuitable for low-light conditions (e.g., in the forest). So, if you prefer rides in the forest, check out sunglasses with color-enhancing lenses.

They can also make reading cycling computers (and other LCD screens), and spotting potholes more difficult.

You might be also interested in How to choose cycling sunglasses?

Photochromic sunglasses can adjust the tint based on the light conditions. This makes them perfect for areas with unpredictable weather.

They are pretty convenient because they darken when the sun is out and lighten when it’s cloudy.

Naturally, they provide you with the same benefits as polarized lenses regarding reduced eyestrain and glares.

Their most significant disadvantage is that their tint transition takes longer. The transition from light to dark tint is much faster (a few seconds) than from dark to light (up to 5 minutes). Cold weather also affects these transitions times. (Source)


Cycling Sunglasses FAQ


Conclusion

You don’t need polarized sunglasses for cycling, but they are pretty helpful in high mountains or near the ocean because they reduce glares and eye strain.

Today’s cycling sunglasses often allow you to change the lenses. In addition, some sunglasses come with more lenses (clear, contrast-enhancing, polarized, etc.), so you can change them as you need.

Photochromic cycling sunglasses are not as common as polarized ones. This is because riders often prefer a specific lens color for the conditions they ride in the most often.

Although they may not be polarized, most high-end cycling sunglasses lenses increase contrast (e.g., Oakley’s PRIZM). This feature allows you to spot potholes and other objects from a larger distance.

They make your ride safer and make your view nicer. That’s why sunglasses with contrast-enhancing lenses are the more preferred choice among riders than polarized or photochromic sunglasses.

Feel free to learn more about how to choose cycling sunglasses or browse the best cycling sunglasses for inspiration.

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